China’s interest in global AI rules is fueled by fear of falling behind U.S., experts say – Washington Times

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China’s desire to participate in global governance of artificial intelligence is motivated by a rising concern that the communist country is getting left out and left behind, according to close observers of China’s leadership.

Beijing’s perception that it was keeping pace on AI with the U.S. was turned upside down by the rise of ChatGPT, the large language model-powered chatbot from OpenAI, according to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace fellow Matt Sheehan.

Mr. Sheehan, whose research focuses on China’s AI capabilities, said China increasingly feels like it is behind the U.S. on one of the key technologies of the century.

“Prior to ChatGPT, they felt like, ‘Hey, maybe we’re catching up, maybe we’re even even with the U.S., or ahead.’ ChatGPT shattered that perception,” Mr. Sheehan said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event last week.

After recognizing its disadvantage, the Chinese Communist Party has made changes to boost the domestic AI support structure. American AI companies such as Scale AI have said they observed China aggressively pursuing generative AI tools and large language models in a bid to catch up.

China is also looking for any way to join global efforts to write the regulatory rules of the road for AI to ensure it does not get left out, according to Trivium China partner Kendra Schaefer.

SEE ALSO: Foreign officials ramp up efforts to influence AI policy in Washington

Ms. Schaefer, who closely tracks China’s regulations and policies, said one of the biggest AI risks facing China is its potential exclusion from global policy conversations surrounding AI.

She said that risk sprang into full view during the Chinese government’s “Two Sessions” meeting last month, when a local-level official made a policy proposal saying the emergence of generative AI threatens to marginalize China in international governance.

“The solution that he presented to that was that, in the short-term, China should vigorously get involved in international AI governance fora, wherever and however they can,” Ms. Schaefer said at the CSIS event. “In the medium-term, he proposed to actively support the formation of a global AI governance body within the UN where China is pretty active.”

Ms. Schaefer said the Chinese official’s long-term goal was to help shape the formation of an international AI regulatory agency similar to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Skepticism abounds that thorny challenges involving AI will be resolved by cooperation among foreign regulators.

Mr. Sheehan said governments will handle many regulatory issues at the national level, such as how to deal with AI-generated job losses for workers and how governments respond to AI-powered deepfakes that may trick observers into believing false images, audio and text.

Military AI and safety issues, however, will require international engagement, he said.

“There actually is potential agreement — yeah, China is going to use AI to build cyberweapons against the U.S., we’re going to use AI to build cyberweapons against them, but it’s in both of our interests not to have those just freely available to non-state actors,” Mr. Sheehan said.

The idea of an international agency analogous to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for AI has piqued the interest of some of the potential victims of China’s AI-enabled cyber weapons.

Asked about the prospect of just such an agency, Taiwanese technology leader Ethan Tu said he supports international efforts to look at AI risks.

Mr. Tu, founder of Taiwan AI Labs, told The Washington Times’ Threat Status podcast that the threats posed by AI may not necessarily equal that of nuclear weapons, but the issue commands careful attention from global leaders.

“There should be an international effort to do a risk assessment,” Mr. Tu told Threat Status.

The likelihood of a new international regulator of AI coming soon appears nil, but China’s government is certainly letting people — including billionaire entrepreneur and X owner Elon Musk — know it is interested. Upon returning from China last year, the tech and social media mogul told lawmakers that he knew China was interested in participating in an international framework for AI rules.

In the absence of an international regulator of AI, governments are competing across the globe to get individual nations to write AI rules in their interest. For example, advocates of the European Union’s approach for AI rules have blanketed Washington in recent weeks in search of allies on Capitol Hill and in the Biden administration.

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